Baltimore's evolving food landscape continues to earn its reputation as an emerging scene on the East Coast. Between intriguing new additions and favorite standbys, our restaurants seem to constantly raise their standards while jockeying for our taste buds.
But as foodies rejoice, wallets quiver.
Or at least, that's the thinking: Most of us can't afford the nice spots unless it's a special occasion or restaurant week. Fear not, though, as we've chosen a handful of sophisticated restaurants with surprisingly inexpensive entry points. (At least relatively.) Consider it proof you can experience the area's finest eateries without breaking the budget.
For more than 25 years, Linwoods has remained a provider of fine dining in Owings Mills. Celebrated entrees like a veal porterhouse and an espresso-rubbed ribeye (more than $45 a pop) justify its fine-dining prices as well.
But it's possible to enjoy a lunch at Linwoods for around $20, a true value given the restaurant's attention to detail. We recommend a reliable combination: the market salad ($8) and the crab soup ($11). Most salads, even this fresh one finished with sweet balsamic vinaigrette, might not get you rushing through the door, but this soup should.
It differs from others because Linwoods uses its own crab stock, said Rachel Maw, executive assistant to co-owner Linwood Dame. Many restaurants use a tomato juice-base, and the difference, she said, is striking.
"[Crab stock] gives it more depth," Maw said. "When you put it on your tongue, you're actually getting the natural flavors of the crab and the ocean with it."
Another key: Linwoods adds the jumbo lump crabmeat to the soup at the very last minute, so the heated broth and cool meat combine for a dynamic result. And like any good traditional Maryland crab soup, a dash of Old Bay completes the dish. 25 Crossroads Drive, Owings Mills; 410-356-3030, linwoods.com.
Considered James Beard Award-nominee Chef Cindy Wolf's masterpiece, Charleston has been one of the city's finest establishments since opening in 1997.
Its prix-fixe tasting menu promotes a thoughtful and delicious dining experience — the unhurried type you don't soon forget. Critics and patrons alike argue the full six courses and wine pairings are well worth the $212 price tag.
Given Charleston's reputation, it's easy to forget you can try it without the formality — or steep price. Some stop by the bar for an appetizer and drink before moving on to a different Harbor East restaurant, or you could take our recommendation and make it a nightcap stop for dessert and a glass of wine.
The dessert menu's crème brulee trio ($15) jumped out at us for its interesting flavor combinations, including cherry and Madeira, chocolate and orange cardamom and maple mascarpone. Pastry chef Cara Flynn collaborated on the dessert with Wolf, who suggested combining maple with the Italian cheese. Flynn was initially skeptical of the combination, but knew to trust Wolf.
"After I tried it, I was like, 'Ahh, that's why you're the chef!'" Flynn said.
The recommended pairing with the trio is a 2003 Château Doisy Daëne sweet wine from the Barsac region of France. It costs more than the dessert ($18 for a glass), but a final course and drink at one of Baltimore's best restaurants for less than $35 still feels like a value. 1000 Lancaster St., Harbor East; 410-332-7373, charlestonrestaurant.com.
Parts & Labor
When people talk must-visit Remington food spots, Parts & Labor — the restaurant and butchery from James Beard winner Spike Gjerde and his team — usually makes the cut.
While a sit-down meal can get pricey fast, the butcher shop serves sandwiches and burgers to-go for lunch, so patrons can still taste Parts & Labor's high-quality meats in a more casual way.
A four-ounce, dry-aged beef burger costs $8 while the Italian cold cut (and its combination of Lebanon bologna, fish pepper salami and other fresh ingredients on a hoagie roll) falls on the menu's higher side at $15.
We recently tried the cheesesteak ($15), which had dry-aged beef, caramelized onions, spicy mayonnaise and the sub's real star: Seven Sisters, a creamy cheese from a farm in Chester County, Pa. Add some homemade corn nuts for $3.
For carnivores rolling with vegetarians, there are non-meat options, too, such as the beets and Brussels salad ($13) and a kale, egg and cheese sandwich ($12) piled high on griddled rye bread.
Grabbing a sandwich to go can't replace the full Parts & Labor experience, but if you're curious about its quality of products, lunch from the butcher shop (served daily from 11 a.m.-4 p.m.) is the next best thing. 2600 N. Howard St., Remington; 443-873-8887, partsandlaborbutchery.com.
Green Spring Station's top dining spot also has a slew of nightly specials. Each night, there's a deep discount for guests, according to Byron Delcid, a food server who has worked at the restaurant for five years.
"It's a good deal," he said. "You normally can save a lot of money. Instead of a $100 check, you'll pay $40."
Monday through Friday, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., the restaurant offers a happy hour where popcorn shrimp, spiced wings, bruschetta and soft pretzels with cheese fondue are all discounted to $6 to $9 from their usual $12 to $16. Assorted glasses of wines are $4 (they're normally up to $10 a glass); Tequila is $7; draft and cocktail prices vary.
The happy hour rail drinks feature brands such as Tanqueray, Bacardi and Jose Cuervo. "They'd be call or premium drinks somewhere else," Delcid said. "You get quality for what you are paying for."
Monday, free oysters are given out at the bar. Tuesday night is burger night where burgers are discounted to $10-$12 from $15-$22. Get the Ahi tuna burger for $13, which is made with sushi-grade tuna. It's normally $23. Wednesday, 25 bottles of wine are marked down to $25 each. The bottles are normally $50-$70, according to Delcid. 2360 W. Joppa Road, Suite 116, Lutherville; 410-583-TARK, tarksgrill.com.
Wit & Wisdom
Some of the city's best dining deals take place at one of its poshest hotel restaurants — Wit & Wisdom at the Four Seasons.
Happy Hour is from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Available in the comfy lounge area or along the water at the outdoor bar, guests can take advantage of half-price off the full Tavern Menu (the lobster corn dogs, glazed chicken wings and Amish cheddar pimento cheese dip are particularly scrumptious); a $6 bartender's choice cocktail; a $6 sommelier's selection of red, white and sparkling wines; $2.50 Natty Bohs; and $4.50 beer selection.
"I believe it is a great way for our guests to come enjoy our food and get a great deal. Our house-made charcuterie and all of our burgers and sandwiches are my personal favorites," said Executive Chef Zack Mills.
Happy hour isn't the only time guests can enjoy deep discounts. The restaurant's "Champagne Campaign" means that all bottles of champagne are half off (up to $500) daily after 9 p.m. and during Sunday brunch.
On Sunday, all bottles of wine up to $500 are half off from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. And glasses of selected rose are $9 daily in the bar and lounge area of the restaurant. 200 International Drive; 410-576-5800, witandwisdombaltimore.com.
A bar with a view, the 13th Floor is an elegant venue for cocktails and cuisine. And it doesn't have to be pricey.
As its name suggests, the 13th Floor is on the 13th floor of the Belvedere in Mount Vernon. On Wednesdays and Fridays, it offers happy hour specials from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. — your best bet if you're on a budget.
During that time, the bar serves select bottles of beer and glasses of wine for $5 each. Beers regularly cost between $6 and $8, and wines by the glass run anywhere from $10 to $12.
If you need a snack, stick with starters and salads, which range from $9 to $14. The duck fat fries ($9), Belvedere salad ($9) or crab cakes ($13) will keep your experience affordable (especially since entrees start at $23).
Although happy hour ends at 7 p.m., it's worth sticking around for live music on nights when performances are hosted. Recent entertainers include pianist Tommy Joy accompanied by vocalist Darren Purcell. 1 E. Chase St.; 410-347-0880, 13floorbelvedere.com.
At Ananda, the early evening is not just happy hour — it's "Bliss Hour."
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From 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. nightly, the fine Indian restaurant in Fulton serves a generous selection of cocktails, beer, wine and appetizers for $5 each.
"A lot of the cocktails and appetizers change as the menu changes seasonally, but the prices stay the same," owner Binda Singh said.
Current Bliss Hour cocktails include the spicy mango, made with sriracha-infused vodka, fresh mango puree and lime; the pirate-inspired Malabar punch, a sweet sipper that mixes fruit-infused white rum with fresh mango puree and apple juice; and the apple cider bellini, a mix of local, organic apple cider and sparkling wine. Ananda's red and white sangrias are both included on the happy hour menu too, in addition to all wines and beers.
For small plates, try the samosas — baked and stuffed with either organic butternut squash or pulled lamb, along with vegetables, chickpeas and cranberries. The stuffing changes seasonally. The Kerala cake, a jumbo-lumb crab cake spiced with toasted mustard seeds, chili and ginger, is another Bliss Hour favorite.
"It'll definitely tell you that you're eating in an Indian restaurant," Singh said.
Bliss Hour runs daily Tuesday through Sunday (the restaurant is closed Mondays). Singh said it's easiest to get a seat at the bar during the week; it gets crowded early on Fridays and Saturdays. On nice nights, the happy hour menu is also available on Ananda's patio, which centers on a 12-foot-by-4-foot fire pit. 7421 Maple Lawn Blvd., Fulton; 301-725-4800, anandarestaurant.net.